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Black Door Pt. V: The Garden of Dismal Deaths

Hello there fellow fictionauts. ‘Tis a happy old tale….

From what you might gather from the title, this episode of Black Door is pretty dark. There may be some ick and squish. Mr Softly again. As promised, this is the second half of the post from last week, and besides I couldn’t leave him (literally) hanging around.

My plan to provide some lighter diversion, via a Friday Flash, peaked a week too soon — busy old week this week, so I may fail to provide some happier musings. In the meantime, on to the Garden of Dismal Deaths…

If you dare 😉

Meanwhile, for those who — for some reason — like to follow things in order: 

I: Softly Does It

II: Rowan

III: Adam

IV: Softly, Bearing Gifts

V: The Garden of Dismal Deaths



ome moments can take your breath away.

Possibly forever.

Teeth are clamped on Softly’s most delicate-of-delicate bodies – a bag full of chisels, prickling.

Copped so quick, didn’t even smell it coming. 

Shredded needles bouncing past.

Claws have been driven through Softly’s glassy hide and straight into the tree by what can only be a car crash. He looks down to red running the length of ridged knuckles and long, multi-jointed fingers that have swatted him into the sky. Those creeping bones  seem to vanish where they enter Softly’s body, but – as Softly knows – what you can’t see can hide a multitude of sins…

Softly, six feet up, pinned to woodland, feet dangling.

Teeth slide round for a better grip, like a kitty wid a fishy.

Softly almost chokes.

“Wa, wai, wait!” He croaks; cracking to a yowl. “Wait!”

Clutcher drool slaps his flesh, swinging like a cradle…


In suddenly slick paws – a rifle?

A rifle!

“This! This!”

Thrusts forward the gun.

Oh, that did it! Teeth up-and-away – the Clutcher, head down, snarling, its collection of eyes sucking back into its head like startled shellfish. Muscles cording, shoulders welling up, pistons, mountains on the move to a huge bite…

A titter squirting up from Softly’s bladder.

“Ah! Uh… No, you…” (fool is what he wanted to say) “… you, you… you lucky Clutcher. Here. Sm… smell it, smell it. Scent it! Taste it, if that’s your way. Tell me whose it is.”

Gun presented, shuddering – just ripples in the air (no time to curse the invisible).

A moment of insane pressure.

Nausea. Softly getting a teeny bit uncomfortable with those huge claws grating directly on bone – hanging like a sack-boy, body-bits weeping, red dripping from the sky.

“Tell me whose it is!”


The de-puncturing yank-yank of claws pulled free of heart wood. Bark and lichen and spiderweb is dragged off the tree – tumbling over Softly’s shoulders as a shower from nowhere – the monster’s arms folding in like a foundry press.

Softly jerked down, all strings and puppetry.

Breath blowing in his face, so fetid the sewer was drifting petals of dew-soaked roses.

Wild sounds of a mountain top.

Inches away, a multitude of eyes blink across the expansive face of nightmare, eyelids audibly clicking, nictitating membranes sliding in patterns – rank after rank of black flint eyes, some clouded, some old wounds, most glittering with a feral hatred, and yes, some with a measure of the cunning, the suspicion, of the Old Man, dead.

Folds of black flesh pucker up around nostrils, the skin disgustingly motile, quivering and crawling. Softly can only imagine a bat’s face mated with a spider’s, and he doesn’t like bats.

Spiders he eats – all flickery legs like eyelashes.

But it’s not to the gun the Clutcher turns to first…

The beast is so close, Softly can feel its body heat shimmering.

Snuffling tasty arm!


Snuuuuuff, snuuuuuff.

Snuff. The Clutcher shifts; a wet crack and whistle of mucus blows from its nostrils; the innards of those folded, fleshy crevices flaring and glistening darkly.

Snuuuuuff, snuuuuuff. Snuffing along the dog-bone of Softly’s arm, where a bear might – no matter how you shivered – delicately, and oh-so-slowly, take a petite and experimental bite…

And all the while, suspicion that’d be hard-pinned with a forked stick.



The Clutcher bends to thin air, to stock and burning metal.

Softly sees nothing of the gun, but feels its reactive movement: the wrapped shirt rumpled back, nostrils rooting beneath. Each scented bolt and oiled crevice examined – flesh crumpled, death moments away.

Taps with a claw.

Finally, the Clutcher straightens.

“Man. Gun. Stolen?” it enquires. The three words rumble through the trees like the aftermath of chain lightening. Their accenting is Germanic, but not German.

Suspicion boils in the bristling, pine-top canopy.

Oh. Gods.

“No! Man. Gun. Dead.”

“Man. Gun. Stolen?” it repeats.

A wide-eyed wail from Softly – to die like a drag-a-bones on a washer’s line?

And then, the digit, the one and incalculably beautiful digit, held, yes, in a cheek beside Softly’s very own teeth. Sucked and nibbled, pouched aside, but not –

Bouncy, bouncy, tongue round. Hooked. Haaaaaaaa – almost swallows!

Spits. Foop!

A line of spittle arcs to a feathery leaf. The Old Man’s finger – pale, blue, bouncy and lifeless – trickles along a fistful of needles till it slips to a stop, prickled here-and-there like a Scotch egg.

The Clutcher crouches low to the half-bleached thing that’s wet like a slug – snuffing it now in the bracken.

Softly still floats safely at arm’s length.

Clutcher snorts.

Again, back to eye level.

Softly swaying.

Silent. Acres of eyes.

“Man. Gun. Dead.” it ponderously pronounces.

Softly – now somewhat pained – simply hisses. “Yessss!”

The Clutcher swallows, muscles relax. Softly is dropped to his dangling feet, and falls like a bag-a-bones in the sweet pine needles.

And now?

The creature simply stands there in the flat sheets of mist that are circling, flexing those long multi-jointed fingers, as if crabs were eating each arm from the wrist up. The concentric rings of woad are smeared upon its body, worn and cracked.  Unaccountably, it doesn’t look pleased by the Old Man’s demise (if such an emotion could ever be detected upon it) or relieved, or anything. It seems more… sad.

Who’s to caring? Monstrous! Monstrous!

Softly licks his body, slupping away in the dark – moistness gathering on his skin – neck cricking at the limits of his neck bone.

Slup, slup, slup…

Chin feels wet, rubs and wipes on the tree bark. Smeary red.

“Back. Again.” says Clutcher, finally.

“Yeth, yeth,” tongue in a wound.


“Ouch. Yes?”

But it had only said the name as a low, gravely word. Thoughtful.

There’s an insidious growl of memory. “Said kill.”

“I know, I know. But the gun? The gift? The finger flesh says your war is over.”

A long pause. Clutcher seems doubtful, but the convolutions are beyond it.

“You came… see?”


Of course yes – the ‘Garden of Dismal Deaths’ as Softly likes to think it. It probably has a proper name, but who cares about proper names? He’s not been introduced to it; he’s not going to dance with it. The Garden is a collection, a collection to which Softly is the most enthusiastic of contributors: he the consummate artist to this his… be-shirted and be-ribboned patron of horrors, if it were not naked and heaving and looked a lot like a bat.

Surely there should be more brotherly love than this? But this creature is – Softly fears – entirely twisted in its eternal battle with the Man; with the Man in all his ages. Though perhaps there is purpose: Death is divided, fractured. Not all deaths are kind and loving. Not all deaths are remembered or even found. If we all die alone, then some die much more alone than others…

Softly slips a loop of thread from his wrist. “I have a skein.”

A hand as wide as a car door accepts the loop – again, disturbingly precise when it comes to the invisible.

This thread is all about the snap. It only has one end. There is no beginning. And yet, it is frayed and disconnected…

“Not skein. Life.”

The Clutcher collapses its fist around the thread, and then nods and shambles to the side like an undertaker long ago lost to the business, yet proud to present his wares. And there is the path. This path wanders where all other paths cannot go. Or, perhaps, where those who create paths simply fear to tread…

They walk side by side; Fastness and Formlessness.

Occasionally, Softly tramples a toadstool or kicks a few leaves.

After a while, the scratch of a key – turned by the Clutcher’s tippy fingers, claws scissored – the key’s bit, a twisted maw of thorns.

They pass through and the Gate of Wild Bone dunks shut.

Softly acknowledges a sparkle of jealousy: who gave you such a fate? But that’s a question for long ages; other days. The key is dropped back on its black chain, to become, once more, withered skin.

Treading in waspish silence for a while.

Aeons of green moss and algae grow silently and secretly.

The mists are flat, blue and thin, like smoke from a frying pan.

A clearing.

In its centre, over there – artfully displayed – a parachutist hanging from a tree, leather harness brown and grown-through the sliding flesh, tilted skull laughing in fear; tattered silk draped over. The creak of fastenings imagined, though the air is still as pool water.

They wander on, Softly blowing some song-or-other under his breath. “If you wan’ it, yo gotta put a ring on it. Hu, hu, ho…”

Before long, a crumpled car, brown with rust, drifting with a miasma of engine oil and burned petrol. It’s crushed between huge forest boulders that remind of the bottom, bottom, bottom of a mountain crevasse; the road above a switchback switch-blade, and off into clean air…

How these sculptures are both here and not here – both displayed, and in their final positions of death – who can tell, but the forest is full of them; timeless exhibits of smell and texture, emotion and yes, even art. The deaths are spaced out through the trees, upon the soft, rolling terrain, where accident or murder can be encountered, pleasingly – to dramatic effect – just around the next corner.

Like lives of pretty prey.

Some deaths are ringed with stones or small twisted baskets of twig, or hung nearby with chimes; their shined fragments of bottle glass and long cords, dank and limp, hanging silent. Hard to imagine such fiddly things in the hand – or thought – of the Clutcher.

Sentimentals? Marking larder?

Surely eats from these provisioned platters? Tasty treats pulled soft and sticky out through a crushed, car door like a clam from a clam shell?

Softly’s guide continues on.

Next. Suicide.

Next. Entombed.

Next. Eviscerated.

Next. Turned left when should have gone right. Young girl; party clothes. Black as frost.

They walk along through the garden, seeing every conceivable death of isolation: trapped, claustrophobic, crushed, pleading, dying for days, never found, never will be found.

All on display.

Why stinks of ‘remembrance’?

Limping to a halt, where the creature slows. At its muscular feet – toenails ragged – not a pine needle out of place, while Softly’s meagre trail has burned a rut of footprints.

Black violets grow here. There is not a lick of wind to cool Softly’s fevered brow, where even his long tongue couldn’t reach.

Rot. Decay. This, then, the bobbin, from which the thread has snapped.

Softly sidles up to the body, where it hangs, sickly, from its own web of bones. And notices the long wide cuts of raking claws, and the soft, sticky bites, where some thing has nipped, literally, at her heals, but has not yet taken a savoured bite.

Ants, flies, fungus, all mature the Clutcher’s collection (larder?) Fizzy and frothy. Other bodies lie in equally decorative states of decay. This one, Rowan, is staked up on fresh wooden spars.

“Nice,” says Softly.

As he reaches out to touch the caracass, there’s a growl. He swiftly withdraws the claw. The Clutcher can definitely see him…

More reasons to get that weaving.

Then gets you in your sleep.

“First,” says Softly, and there’s a rattle of damp-sounding metal, as he releases the bracelet from his wrist. He places the watch on a stump. It snaps into visibility, covered in its reams of Sellotape.

“That?” says Clutcher, looming over.

“Watch,” says Softly. “Digital watch,” he clarifies.

He can just about make out numbers, through the brown tape is now, smeary and smooth around the wrist like polished amber; his own blood like varnish.

“Time is always pressing.”

“Ah,” says Clutcher.

Already, Softly can feel his body pulling out of shape; something imponderable dragging at his movements and choices…

“As much as enjoy our little… dawdles, not be staying long this time.”  Truth is, Softly had wasted almost three hours trying to find this particular time and place.

He points at the death. The eyelids of his host flicker like letters following a platform announcement.

“I need speak to it and find out how to save it… save woman… ah… save her.”

That apartment block of stares, all blinds open.

“Brought you gun. Killed Old Man. Remember?” In fact, Man here? Somewhere? Behind the next tree? Some two walls, and a few planks and on ’em sprawled an old tangle of gristle?

But the Clutcher doesn’t respond. It still doesn’t look happy.

“Sleeps. Dreams. Ask.”

The whine of a mosquito. Softly scratches thin air, face squinted up like a crow beak.

“What saying? Dead don’t dream.”

But the creature is already shambling away, mist stroked into eddies.

“Said, dead don’t –“

What do you know? says the set of those swinging shoulders, the woad bull’s eyes of blue.

And the beast is gone.


1 Stephen { 10.03.11 at 10:26 pm }

“If we all die alone, then some die much more alone than others…”

An interesting line, this–one that made me stop to stare consider the depths of it. Death is something we all must go through alone, I guess; nobody can hold your hand and walk through it with you. What would be sad, however, is being in a place where there is nobody to hold your hand before you go it alone.

The other line that made me stop was this: “Next. Entombed.” How sad. I can’t even imagine the depths of “alone” one must feel in that kind of situation.

There are many things to consider in this piece, Stephen, but those two hit me the strongest. Well done.

2 Steve Green { 10.04.11 at 10:15 am }

Quite a grisly episode, for all the vicious violence Mr Softly is capable of he doesn’t even come close to the capabilities of The Clutcher.

Once again, chock full of brilliantly crafted lines and superb imagery.

3 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 10:45 am }

@Steve — hopefully not too grisly. I generally love a little understatement, but figured when Softly and Clutcher meet up there probably wouldn’t be too much subtlety going on. And then — in a culture that believes in the cyclic turn of nature — the garden may not be quite as bad as it sounds to us. Still ick, though. Did leave me wanting to write something ‘nice’.

4 Helen { 10.05.11 at 7:09 am }

Oh for a moment there I thought the Clutcher was going to finish Mr. Softly off. Indeed that was a garden of dismal deaths – Mr. Softly must have felt right at home. Clutcher is an interesting addition.

I loved this sentence “Teeth are clamped on Softly’s most delicate-of-delicate bodies – a bag full of chisels, prickling.” I got my attention and held me from then on. You wrote so many good lines in this piece here are two other favourites.
“the Clutcher, head down, snarling, its collection of eyes sucking back into its head like startled shellfish.” 

“flexing those long multi-jointed fingers, as if crabs were eating each arm from the wrist up. ”

Really though the writing was great, it took concentration to follow but the reward of reading is well worth it. ^_^

5 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 10:59 am }

@Helen — Softly wasn’t entirely sure if his transparent cards were up, as well. I kind of wanted the Clutcher to be big and formidable, but, in a strange way, a more ‘noble’ beast… should we get to know more about him/it and the purpose of the garden. Glad you thwacked your way through the verbage — I’m still aware that my writing can be ‘an ask’ on concentration: it’s not a gentle read for the bath, or a drift off and daydream on the back stoop, but I’m venturing off to find some middle ground 🙂

6 Harry B. Sanderford { 10.05.11 at 5:08 pm }

Oh yeah, The Clutcher is quite a piece of work. Let’s see Gordon Ramsay waltz in and start complaining about the state of his larder. Staying tuned!

7 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 11:07 am }

@Harry — Gordon Ramsay and the Clutcher could potentially meet, but only if Ramsay took an obscure chefing holiday in a gorge somewhere.

8 John Xero { 10.09.11 at 8:41 am }

This Clutcher is an interesting beast, seems Mr. Softly was wise to prepare some gift to appease him. Maybe wiser still to have left him well alone…

And poor Rowan! Is this some violence already happened, or some future yet avoidable…? And is Mr. Softly looking to save her from this, or ensure it? Will the fates be making an appearance, to see who is plucking at the weave?

The build up to the Clutcher is justified, he is more than your average monster. Looking forward to seeing how you weave all the parts together. =)

9 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 11:20 am }

@John — sometimes, a bottle of wine and a profiterole desert just don’t cut-it as a visiting gift.

Your questions about Rowan are very much the kinds of thing I hope the reader is asking, while the Clutcher is most definitely his own beast.

The threads should be pulled tighter in the next episode.

10 Aidan Fritz { 10.10.11 at 5:08 am }

The opening is a beautiful way to jump you into this segment and set the tone. The grisliness of this fits well with your finely wrought detail. I particularly liked the descriptions and suppositions around the skein. Clever story that begins to pull the frayed rope into coherence.

11 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 11:23 am }

@Aidan — thanks Aidan. Grisliness, skeins, and frayed ropes, indeed. Still pulling on an end of the plotty string to yank all this together. 😉

12 Joan { 10.13.11 at 5:50 pm }

Yes – your breath can be taken away possibly forever …

‘like a kitty wid a fishy ‘ – I like the bit of humour – lightens it – mind, before this the writing was coming across almost funny (probably because the content of it was so horrible) and then, this bit of humour is like a counter-move – you stop laughing (probably it was hysteria) – and – my god, this is serious!
I didn’t think Clutcher would really be as bad as he is – I thought Softly would somehow evade him – but maybe this is an evasion where Clutcher is concerned – ie maybe he can be much worse.
I like the way Softly ‘doesn’t like bats’.
I like the way you call the loop of thread a ‘skein’ – for all I know, it may be a usual Scottish expression, but it’s a specialist one here in England, and gives the writing something of an archaic feel for me.
This story is getting really interesting now. I love the idea of the Garden of Dismal Deaths.
Mention of Rowan – not the Rowan? I fear it is …

13 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 12:00 pm }

@Joan — ‘kitty wid a fishy’ just popped out. That was Softly’s idea. I, too, liked the counterpoint. The Clutcher is big and mean, but Softly’s preternaturally resilient. I also wanted to make sure that Softly can be vulnerable; having him hang around, somewhat impaled, was my own way of weaving in some imperfection. I love bats, but for Softly — ick. Skein is a lovely word, and that just had to be what you’d call a life line. And the Garden; I guess all things have their place. But, as for Rowan, well, I fear you may be right… St.

14 Icy Sedgwick { 10.15.11 at 5:40 pm }

Your work is always so imaginative. I could really ‘see’ this episode unfolding.

15 Stephen Hewitt { 10.30.11 at 8:55 am }

@Icy — thanks Icy. I like a nice visual feel in writing, so I’m happy my words managed to get out of the way of the view for a while 😉